FAYETTEVILLE – Though through recruiting blessed with size to employ a variety of basketball styles, second-year Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman asserts defensively his Razorbacks again will go all man to man all the time.
“The more you put in, the greater the opportunity you have for error,” Musselman told Razorbacks basketball season ticket holders on a Tuesday evening Zoom conference. “Less is more. We’ve had great success playing man to man defense. We led the nation last year defending the 3-ball. And we know from the statistics with the way the NBA and college basketball has evolved the 3-ball is the equalizer, one thing that can change the game.”
Musselman said last season “we elected that we’re not going to let teams beat us with the 3” even at the expense “if we give up some stuff inside.”
Adding the size of 7-3 center Connor Vanover, redshirted last season as a sophomore transfer from the University of California, plus 6-10 freshman Jaylin Williams from Fort Smith Northside; 6-9 grad transfer Vance Jackson from the University of New Mexico, 6-9 Abayomi Iyiola, redshirted last season as a junior transfer from Stetson; 6-7 grad transfer Justin Smith of Indiana added to junior Ethan Henderson of Little Rock Parkview, at 6-8 the tallest returning letterman, should make Arkansas’ inside defense less vulnerable than last season’s undersized squad.
Musselman did say the Hogs likely must handle their pick and roll defensive switches differently with Vanover as a true center than the 6-6 and quick Adrio Bailey as Arkansas’ undersized senior center last season.
“We realize our personnel has changed,” Musselman said. “Connor Vanover is not going to be switch pick and roll where he can get out and guard a point guard. We might have to play different variations of defense than we did last year.”
While junior-to-be guard Isaiah Joe continues after two outstanding seasons pondering his must be made by Aug. 3 decision whether to keep his name under NBA draft consideration or return to the Razorbacks, Musselman praised the dozen scholarship players for their Monday and Tuesday workouts.
“We’ve had two really good workouts,” Musselman said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so far not afflicting any of his players or staff, Musselman said, there has been no 5 on 5 scrimmaging but “5 on 0” type drills.
Even if Joe returns to a team abounding with added touted guards, don’t count out junior Desi Sills’ dues paid first under Mike Anderson and last season under Musselman.
The 6-1 leaper from Jonesboro started 24 games season. He sixth-man sparked the other eight.
“He’s proven he can do both,” Musselman said. “I know he like to be a starter. but when he came off the bench his productively went up. Desi really found his groove when he came off the bench.”
Musselman concedes he may never again coach a point guard quite like departed grad transfer Jimmy Whitt, the strong 6-3 defender seldom attempting a 3 yet often unleashing a devastating mid-range game.
But he is 4-deep in point guards with grad transfer Jalen Tate from Northern Kentucky University, junior JD Notae redshirted last season transferred from Jacksonville (Fla.) University, and instate freshmen KK Robinson of Bryant and Davonte “Devo” Davis of Jacksonville.
“Jalen Tate is a 6-6 point guard and great defender,” Musselman said. “He’s longer than Jimmy. Probably not as physical a defender as Jimmy Whitt. Jimmy guarded a power forward against Indiana. I don’t think Jalen will be doing that. But Jalen was the (Horizon League) Conference MVP defensively at Northern Kentucky. Jalen is a better shooter from the perimeter with a little deeper range, but nobody had a better mid-range game than Jimmy Whitt.”
Jalen Harris, since grad transferred to Georgetown, was the only true point guard spelling Whitt last season.
Musselman touts his current point guard numbers and diversity.
“You add KK Robinson and his speed and that gives us a different look at that point guard spot,” Musselman said. “And (6-4) Devo Davis with his length and ability to create one-on-one situations. Devo has great vision. And JD Notae can also play the point. More of a scoring type point guard. When you’ve got a roster of 12 and four can play the point guard position it’s going to give us the ability to play different styles throughout the course of a 40-minute game.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3 Sports Action